Zak Hardaker admits he is preparing himself for abuse and hostility aplenty as he returns to Castleford Tigers on Friday night for the first time since being sacked by the club following his drugs ban.
Hardaker was suspended by the Tigers on the eve of the 2017 Grand Final after testing positive for cocaine, and never played for the club again after they ripped up his contract when he was subsequently handed an 18-month suspension by UK Anti-Doping. Friday will be Hardaker’s first game back at Castleford since that episode.
And the fullback admits while there will be mixed emotions about returning to a club with whom he came desperately close to winning major silverware with, he is ready for the backlash from Castleford fans
“I’ve got mixed emotions,” he said. “I’m upset with how it finished and I enjoyed my time there – the lads and the fans were great with me. But I understand it’s going to be hostile and I know I’m going to get some stick.
“When I saw the fixture list initially I didn’t think about it too much because it was eight or nine weeks away, but it’s flown around. I don’t think my mum is going to go because it’s her birthday – though I’ve warned her she may hear the abuse even more because it’ll be on the telly! But you’ve got to get in there as a professional and get it over and done with.”
Hardaker is also hoping that he can keep his own emotions in check and be able to use any jeering from the terraces sent his way as a positive.
He said: “If someone is calling me every name under the sun and it gets me angry, I’ll try take it out on someone on their team. I know from warm-up to getting out of there on the team bus it’s going to be there.
“Sam Tomkins was a bit far from the booing on Sunday (on his own return to Wigan), but at Castleford the fans can almost touch you so it’ll be a bit different! It’s going to be a little bit upsetting but I’m preparing for it. I hope it will spur me on though and work in my favour.”